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BBC boss defends plans to upgrade local online news offering

Rhodri Talfan Davies newA BBC director has expressed his desire to make more use of local democracy reporters as part of planned changes to the corporation’s news services.

Rhodri Talfan Davies, the BBC’s director of nations, has told MPs he wants to “draw on” the talents of LDRs, who are funded by the BBC but are based in regional press newsrooms, in order to improve its online local news offering.

Rhodri’s comments came as he defended the corporation’s plans to cut 139 roles due to the introduction of increased programme-sharing across its network of 39 local radio stations in England.

Alongside the proposed cuts, the BBC revealed plans in October to increase its daily online news provision for 43 local areas and launch dedicated services covering Bradford, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Peterborough.

The plan, which has been criticised by regional press bosses, is set to create around 60 journalism jobs.

In an appearance before the DCMS Select Committee yesterday to discuss the changes to local radio, he also confirmed 71 further editorial roles, set to be created as a result of 11 investigative reporting teams being launched, will be based across 22 local centres around England.

In his appearance, Rhodri said the BBC’s current  local online news services were “not where they need to be.”

Rhodri, pictured, said: “The challenge is that whenever you change anything connected with BBC broadcast services there is a response, and one of the difficulties for us here is balancing the needs of our existing local radio audience with the information and news needs of the rest of the local community.

“About 85pc of the local community doesn’t come into local radio. It does a great job, local radio, but the majority of people don’t tune into it.

“I don’t accept that those individuals have no interest in their local communities, have no interest in local news, and right now I don’t think our local online services are where they need to be.

“They need to be more consistent, they need to be more investigative, they need to draw on our specialists, they need to draw on the local democracy reporter scheme that we run.

“We need to deliver a trusted, seven-day-a-week local online news service and that’s not where we are right now.”

Under the plans, all 39 BBC stations will continue with their own dedicated local programming from 6am to 2pm on weekdays, but this will be cut to 18 shared programmes between 2pm and 6pm.

From 6pm to 10pm, there will be 10 shared programmes across the stations, broadly mirroring the areas served by the BBC’s television news regions – a model that will also be replicated all day on Saturdays and on Sunday mornings.

A national ‘all-England’ programme will also be launched after 10pm across the week and on Sunday afternoons and evenings.

However, the BBC has confirmed local news bulletin services will be protected across the day on all local stations and all live sports programming will be maintained.

Rhodri told the committee: “A lot of this debate has been framed by ‘local radio is changing’ and I understand that, but what I would say to you is don’t underestimate the improvement you will see in the local online news provision.

“And I know from speaking to many members of this committee and many MPs that there are concerns about the quality and the consistency of the BBC’s online news offer locally. These plans go to the heart of driving a higher standard.”